Why You Need an Exit Interview for Terminated Employees

Explore the often-overlooked value of exit interviews for terminated employees. Joel and Joanna share insights, but Joey, fired for cause, is excluded. Learn why capturing feedback from terminated employees is crucial for organizational growth, despite potential challenges. Don't miss out on valuable information that could enhance your company's practices.

Joel, Joanna, and Joey are all leaving the company on the same day. Joel is leaving for a new job. Joanna has quit, but doesn’t say why. Joey was fired for cause. Joel and Joanna have an exit interview, which includes questions relating to compliance and ethics at the company, and about the behavior of their managers.

Joey doesn’t get an exit interview. The Human Resources lead who conducts exit interviews said, “Why should he get an exit interview? He submitted false expenses and is a thief. He doesn’t have anything useful to say to us.”

Or does he?

The Purpose of an Exit Interview

Exit interviews give people the opportunity to say what they really think, frequently in a semi-anonymous way. People are asked questions about what they liked about their jobs, what they thought of the company, and why they are leaving. They are often asked if there would have been anything the company could have done to make them stay.

Exit interview data can be invaluable. Aggregated data can make trends in employee experience visible. If people are leaving in droves for higher salaries, perhaps the company needs to increase its remuneration or benefits packages. If people are leaving because their shifts are inconsistent and make it impossible to plan for family time, the company can respond by publishing schedules weeks in advance.

Exit interview data can also pinpoint bad managers or pockets of toxic culture. One person’s exit interview may start an investigation that ends with a performance plan or termination of a terrible boss. The company benefits enormously from the information garnered from exit interviews, as does the Compliance and Ethics department.

Do Leavers by Choice Tell the Truth?

The data that comes from exit interviews is only as good as the truthfulness of the people being interviewed. There is a belief that people who are voluntarily leaving will be honest with the exit interviewers, and frequently, that’s correct.

But there is another side – some people will want to protect their own reputation and the likelihood of a good reference from a previous boss.

Pundits frequently say that people don’t quit companies, they quit bosses. If that’s true more often than not, people may avoid telling the truth for fear of consequences when they need a reference.

What about Terminated Employees? ​

Just because someone’s employment is terminated for cause doesn’t mean that their experience at the company doesn’t matter. In fact, it may be the most valuable information of all. A person who has had their employment terminated frequently feels that they have nothing to lose by expressing the good, bad, and the ugly of their experience.

Perhaps surprisingly, many acts of misconduct come as payback for a perceived wrong. For instance, one of Spark Compliance’s clients fired a manager who had taken a bribe from a supplier. When asked why he’d done it, he said felt that he was being made whole after his bonus was cut. He then described retaliation from his manager that led to the bonus being reduced.

Was the bribe acceptable because of the retaliation? No, but the company was able to substantiate the retaliation, leading to the firing of the boss that had engaged in misconduct himself.

The information revealed in the exit interview was extremely useful despite the terminated employee’s misconduct. It was more than worth the time taken.

A Caveat

Terminated employees may hold a vendetta or try to get their former boss or co-workers into trouble, so it is worth taking time to evaluate whether the information they share is truthful before launching into an investigation.

Exit sign with two arrows pointing in different directions

Do It

Would Joey have given helpful and truthful information about his job, manager, and impressions of the company in an exit interview? Maybe, maybe not. But excluding him from the exit interview population did a disservice to the company and limited the Compliance department’s ability to do its job.

Typically, Human Resources manages exit interviews. If they don’t interview terminated employees, ask them to start. If they still won’t do it, ask if the Compliance department can take over the task of exit interviewing terminated employees. See if they will agree to Compliance taking these interviews for six or twelve months to make a stronger case for continuing the practice.

People with nothing to lose can be a fountain of information. There’s nothing to lose in asking them what they really think.

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Kristy Grant-Hart

Kristy Grant-Hart

Kristy Grant-Hart is the founder and CEO of Spark Compliance.
She's a renowned expert at transforming compliance departments into in-demand business assets.